Am I a racist?

I won’t say that all Asian people look the same to me. I will say that I have a VERY hard time differentiating between them when they are people I do not know well. I do not think that they are all the same or that they should all be lumped into one group based on something one, or a few, of them does. Being a middle aged, white guy I do not feel superior in any way (because I’m not).

But, what is it about me that prevents me from detecting the visual differences between Asians? Is it the way I was raised? Is it something in my brain that has me looking for sign to tell people apart that either aren’t there in Asian people or isn’t as defined in Asians as it is in Caucasins? I also understand that there are differences and charicteristics that can be used to determine where someone is from in Asia. For some reason I cannot see these differences. I cannot tell if someone is from Korea or Japan or China or Taiwan or etc….

I do not actually think I am a racist (in the usual sense of the word), but I would like to know why it is that I cannot detect these differences.

Any ideas?

One reason is that people tend to rely on the more variable features to differentiate between individuals. For people of european origin hair color and texture is quite variable and an important cue. For asians, who mostly have straight, dark hair this will not work.

No, you’re not, and ticker is right. Two relevant Straight Dope columns on this subject:

How come white people don’t all look alike?
and
Do other races really look more alike?

Ok. Thanks for the links.

The only time I had heard the phrase, “All those _____ look alike” had been in racist terms and I wanted to make sure I didn’t get confused with them. I also didn’t put this in GQ because I didn’t think it had a factual answer. :smack: Wrong again.

Anyway, it’s nice to know I’m not the only non-racist who has this problem.

Living in Japan, I can agree with the point that Cecil mentions that you come to base your mental description on facial features instead of coloring and such. Unfortunately, since this is a mental thing–I still have no idea how I would verbally describe a particular Japanese person to another person (except by height, weight, and race.)

And, it must be noted that the US is quite odd for having the wide variety one sees among people. If you go to Britain, you get a sense that everyone shares a particular look, and the same if you go to France, Germany, or Italy. Indeed, when I went to Germany I felt like they must all be related to me as everyone (in Frankfurt at least) just slightly resembled my dad. It was vaguely unsettling.

I should point out that I often do find white people look alike. For example, if I’m watching a movie and don’t know the actors, and they dress similarly, that’s it…I’ll never tell them apart. Two white guys, one with blond hair and one with brown. Yeah, I’ll confuse them a lot.

Someone I haven’t seen for a long time? (few years) I’ll blend them in with other white people I’ve known.

And I don’t think that’s racist either.

Is it true that there are charecteristics that can be used to figure out if someone is from China or Japan or Korea or etc…?

I find this very interesting because I cannot look at a white person and determine where they are from. I also cannot do this with Africans. So, basically I guess I can’t do this at all so it shouldn’t be interesting to me. But it is.

Yes. They are not guaranteed, and I certainly won’t list them here.

I can tell with about 85 % accuracy what state in India someone’s from. I can sometimes tell the difference between Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese. Some of it is body language, since I’ve studied a hell of a lot of Japanese culture I feel I understand it more than the others.

A Black guy I worked with for a while insisted that I’m prejudiced against Black people because I’m White. Nothing else mattered; only my ethnicity.

I once worked with a woman for two years before I realised she was Asian; and only then, because she mentioned it.

And I wouldn’t ask you to. I am just happy to learn that I’m not some wierdo for not picking up on these differences.

Heck, I’m white and I often have a hard time telling older-middle-aged white men apart. After about 60, they all start to look a little alike. And I’ve watched whole movies without realizing that two different guys were not the same guy.

But I agree that the US is relatively diverse–I lived in Europe for a while and you could really tell a lot of people had a certain ‘type’ that showed whether they were German or Danish or Russian, etc.

To answer the OP’s question, no, I don’t think you’re being racist if you can’t tell the difference between Asians. People come up to me and confuse me for Chinese and I correct them and tell them that I’m Korean. But, I think it’s rather rude when they say, “Oh, Chinese, Korean…it’s all the same.” Anyways, a lot of people have trouble telling Asians apart. Even some Asians can’t tell! And to me, all old Korean men look the same.

Yes, that’s true. Not that everybody from any one country looks alike either, of course, but I think you could say Korean people look different from Japanese for example.

I can tell somewhat–though Japan was kidnapping and enslaving Koreans for a few centuries so you come across Korean-looking Japanese fairly regularly.

Generally speaking, Koreans have more angular and accented “oriental” features, while as Chinese seem to have rounder faces.* And a relatively good percentage of Japanese have fairly Western looking faces (but made Japanese)–so for instance, my manager looks like a taller, younger, Japanese version of grandfather. You wouldn’t see that among (central) Chinese or Koreans.

There is a guy on TV who I would swear is Mike Myers’ Japanese cousin. :smiley:

  • As compared to Japanese.

What idiocy. I wonder if he realized that’s racist in itself.

I can usually tell Japanese and Chinese apart – not always – but I haven’t seen as many Koreans. And I can’t describe what I see that differentiates them, it’s just that they look Chinese, or Japanese.

And a LOT of actors, especially young guys on soap operas, all look alike because they were cast to a type or something. So yeah, at least on soaps, white guys do all look alike to me. And I’m white.

My mother couldn’t tell one race from another, aside from white, black, and “everyone else”. And she was as non-racist, left-leaning as they come. I think it’s probably an OK thing to miss the physical details as long as you don’t skim over the personality and cultural differences. Those traits count for more in my book.

I read somewhere (I know, I know, I should figure out where) that different racial and cultural groups tend to mention different characteristics when describing someone’s appearance - generally the characteristics that vary the most among individuals in their particular group. If you get used to describing or differentiating people by, let’s say, height, hair color, eye color, general physical build, and presence or absence of facial hair, (which tends to work in the US) you won’t know what to look for OR how to describe it among people who generally differ by, say, shape of face, shape of hairline, shape of nose, and shape of lips. You’re not used to taking note of the correct features.

In my experience, just looking at or being around lots of people of the target group (particularly lots at once) lets you learn to see the differences more easily.

Where else?

I wish I could find a link to a thread here about a year ago that had a ‘guess these Asian people’s nationality from their photographs’ game on their website.

All Look Same.